Several injured in 'bomb attack' on Armistice Day ceremony at Saudi cemetery

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At least three people were wounded Wednesday in what French officials described as a "bomb attack" targeting a World War I commemoration ceremony attended by European diplomats at a non-Muslim cemetery in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

France's Foreign Ministry said the attack had taken place at a ceremony marking the end of World War I and that several people had been wounded as a result of an explosive device.

"The annual ceremony commemorating the end of World War I at the non-Muslim cemetery in Jeddah, attended by several consulates, including that of France, was the target of an IED (improvised explosive device) attack this morning, which injured several people," the ministry said in a statement.

"France strongly condemns this cowardly, unjustifiable attack," the statement added.

The ministry called on Saudi authorities "to shed as much light as they can on this attack, and to identify and hunt down the perpetrators".

Hours after the attack, Saudi state-media quoted a local official acknowledging the attack and saying a Greek consulate employee was lightly wounded in the incident. The British government said one UK national suffered minor injuries.

A Saudi policeman also suffered minor injuries, added the state-owned Ekhbariya television station, citing the governor of Mecca region, where Jeddah is located.

"[Saudi] security services will launch an investigation into an incident of aggression during a gathering of a number of consuls in Jeddah," Ekhbariya said.

Explosion then panic

The bomb triggered panic as it went off while the French consul was delivering a speech at the ceremony, according to eyewitness Nadia Chaaya.

"At the end of the speech we heard an explosion. We didn't quite understand it at first, but we then realised that we were the target," Chaaya told France's BFMTV.

"We were panicking and feared there could be a second explosion. We left the cemetery and went out into the street, and everyone went their separate ways."

Roads leading up to the cemetery in central Jeddah were blocked by Saudi traffic police, according to an AFP photographer at the scene.

While condemning the "shameful" attack, the embassies of the countries involved in the commemoration lauded "brave Saudi first responders who assisted those at the scene".

The European Union delegation in the kingdom also thanked Saudi emergency services, while urging local authorities to hold a "prompt and thorough investigation" of the attack.

"I have full confidence the Saudi Authorities will investigate this attack and prosecute those responsible for this cowardly act," James Cleverly, the British minister for the Middle East and North Africa, said on Twitter.

'Maximum vigilance'

The blast is the second security incident to take place in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia's second-most populous city, in the last couple of weeks.

On October 29 a Saudi man was arrested after attacking and wounding a security guard at the French consulate there.

On Wednesday, the consulate issued a statement to French nationals in Saudi Arabia urging them to exercise "maximum vigilance" following the latest attack.

"In particular, exercise discretion, and stay away from all gatherings and be cautious when moving around," said the statement.

The consulate attack occurred on the same day that a knife-wielding man killed three people in a church in Nice in southern France.

It came amid a wave of protests in parts of the Muslim world over French President Emmanuel Macron's vigorous defence of the right to publish cartoons, including caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed printed by satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo.

Last month, French teacher Samuel Paty was brutally murdered by an 18-year-old radical Islamist angered by reports that Paty had shown the same cartoons to pupils in a class on free speech.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)